Missions Trip Update

A big THANK YOU to each of you who prayed for our team this last week. We had a great week up in “the Soo“.

Our trip started out a  little rocky. Forty minuets from home our church van broke down.  But thankfully after a few calls, and the arrival of help and a new vehicle, we were back on our way (in case you’re wondering the van is now fixed and back at Fellowship). This was really the only hiccup in our week.

The rest of our mission went surprisingly well.  At our home base in “the Soo” we met our fellow workers,  a church group from upstate New York. They were great. And our teams bonded easily.

During the week our groups combined and broke up into four ministry teams. These teams served together at the church where we stayed and out in the community.

My prayer, among other things, was that as a team we would make Christ known. I really feel like that prayer was answered.

Here are just a few ways Christ was made known this last week:

  • At Kid’s Club we made Christ known to about 40 students through sharing the story of God’s love via skits, story time, crafts, and a memory verse. We also built relationships with them through games, hanging out time, and by just listening to their stories.
  • On the Farm we made Christ known through our team’s work ethic. That crew cheerfully cared for and cleaned up after the animals, and  put up 1,000 feet of fence to make a new goat pen. The owner of the farm commented that she was amazed at their ability to do whatever was needed, work with no supervision, and accomplish exactly what she needed done that week.
  • At the Fairgrounds Christ was made known through the positive attitudes of those who cleaned, painted, and repaired a community building. It was a lot of grunt work, but the team never complained.  And those in the community noticed. Even though the work wasn’t glamorous (or likely even fun) the team served without complaining. And the community leaders expressed over and over again how grateful they were for the help.
  • At the Assisted Living Facility Christ was made known through time spent with the elderly. Most of it was just listening to their stories and joining them in playing leisurely games. But the team also took part in a car wash to help raise funds for the facility. Again their presence was greatly appreciated.

Overall every team member both on our team and from the NY church represented Jesus Christ well. Not only in the community but with each other and with themselves. Honestly, it was one of the greatest ministry groups I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.

And I know that it was not a coincidence.

It happened because God called amazing people to his mission. It happened because God called our amazing church to support us. And it happened because God called you to support us in prayer.

And because of all that, we were able to join with the mission of Jesus Christ already happening in “the Soo”, and, along with others, make Christ known.

Of course this is just an overview of the week. If you want to hear more details (and you definitely should) then please take some time to connect with a student or adult from our team. I’m sure they’d be happy to share with you how God used them and others to make Christ known.

Thanks again for all your support!

 

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I don’t think that means what you think it means…

In the last post I wrote about overcoming the comparison trap.  I said that when we understand that in God’s eyes we are blessed, we will be freed from temptation to compare ourselves with others.

But there was one problem with that post.

I never actually defined what it means to be “blessed”.

And the idea of being “blessed” is kind of abstract. We throw around the term in a variety of ways. We say things like:

“I feel blessed…”

“Bless you…”

“What a blessing that is…”

“I pray that God would bless…”

But what are we thinking when we speak of being blessed? What should we be thinking when we think of Christian blessings?

The truth is, “being blessed” likely doesn’t mean what you (and I) think it means.

In the BibleIsaac_Blessing_Jacob_-_Govert_Flinck

God blesses people when he gives them some kind of physical or spiritual gifts (Gen. 1:22; 24:35; Job 42:12; Ps. 45:2; 104:24, 35). A person blesses God when he shows God gratitude (Ps. 103:1, 2; 145:1, 2). A person blesses himself  when he rejoices in God’s goodness to him (Deut. 29:19; Ps. 49:18). And one person blesses another person when he expresses good wishes or prays to God for the welfare of the other person (Gen. 24:60; 31:55; 1 Sam. 2:20). [1]

So far this sounds like what we’d expect.

But in the New testament things get a little more interesting. The most common Greek word for “blessed” is makarios (see The Beatitudes). This word means “happy”.

But this is not the  Pharrell Williams kind of happy (nothing against the song). Being “blessed” is not based on a feeling. Rather makarios (“being blessed”) is based on a person’s status from the point of view of others. [2] In other words a person is “blessed” when they are favored by someone else. And it is the knowledge of that favor which brings about the person’s happiness.

This is the key to understanding being “blessed” in the Christian worldview. 

Being blessed is not something that comes from inside of us. Nor is it based on anything we do or have in and of ourselves. To be blessed is to be favored by someone else. When Jesus calls people “blessed” (again, see The Beatitudes) he is telling them they are favored by the greatest someone else— God himself.

This is the good news: through Jesus Christ any person can receive the favor of God!

Having the favor of God trumps all other favor. It’s the favor that levels the playing field. It is not about what a person has been given in relation to someone else. One gift from God is not better than another. The only thing that matters is that a person has the favor of God. For the favor of God is the blessing, not just the manifestations of that favor.

This is hard for us in the United States. We often equate being “blessed” with our allotment of physical goods — money, beauty, health, or other material things.

But God’s primary concern is not our financial and material well-being. The example of Paul in Phil 4:12-13 shows us that much.  Sometimes God blesses us with material resources and sometimes he doesn’t. So then, what is the big deal about God’s favor?

What good is God’s favor in our world?

Romans 8:31-35 answers that question well:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Despite who we are or what we have done. Despite our social-economic condition or family’s colored past. Despite our failures, or sins. Despite our insecurities or weakness.

If we have the favor of God,  we are free from all condemnation. We have a new social status. We are members of a new family. We have a new inheritance waiting for us. We have been made into a new creation. We have been forgiven. We have the Spirit of God within us, and are able to draw on his security and strength.

To have the favor of God is to know, despite our external circumstances, that God is always for us. That He is always working things out for our good according to his purpose. That our story is (because of our relationship to God) always significant.

To have the favor of God is to know that the perfect, unconditional, eternal, incomprehensible love of God displayed through Jesus Christ is yours forever.

And the more we understand what that means we will understand what it means to be “blessed”.

 

 

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[1] Easton, M. G. (1893). Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[2] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (131). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

 

 

 

Overcoming “The Other” Internet Addiction

I don’t mean to do it. But sometimes it is so hard to stop.  A few minutes in and my thoughts are engrossed in it.

It used to be easier not to think about, but now it seems like the internet and particularly social media has made it so much easier to get lost in.

The comparison trap.

Asking myself consciously or unconsciously “how is my life in comparison to others?”

Has this happened to you?  It’s a common problem. In fact, it’s so common TIME magazine wrote an article about it.

So how do we overcome it?

We don’t. At least not on our own.

The only way out of this trap is to get an outside perspective. We need a new reality from an expert that transcends our subjective opinions on what makes for a good life. We need an objective answer to the question, “am I blessed?”

The Bible give us that outside perspective.

It tells us what kind of people are, in God’s eyes, objectively blessed. For example, here are 42 kinds of people the Bible calls blessed:

  1. Those whom God chooses. Ps 65:4; Eph 1:3, 4.
  2. Those whom God calls. Isa 51:2; Re 19:9.
  3. Those who know Christ. Mt 16:16, 17.
  4. Those who know the gospel. Ps 89:15.
  5. Those who are not offended at Christ. Mt 11:6.
  6. Those who believe. Lu 1:45; Ga 3:9.
  7. Those whose sins are forgiven. Ps 32:1, 2; Ro 4:7.
  8. Those to whom God imputes righteousness without works. Ro 4:6–9.
  9. Those whom God chastens. Job 5:17; Ps 94:12.
  10. Those who suffer for Christ. Lu 6:22.
  11. Those who have the Lord for their God. Ps 144:15.
  12. Those who trust in God. Ps 2:12; 34:8; 40:4; 84:12; Jer 17:7.
  13. Those who fear God. Ps 112:1; 128:1, 4.
  14. Those who hear and keep the word of God. Ps 119:2; Jas 1:24; Mt 13:16; Lu 11:28; Re 1:3; 22:7.
  15. Those who delight in the commandments of God. Ps 112:1.
  16. Those who keep the commandments of God. Re 22:14.
  17. Those who wait for the Lord. Isa 30:18.
  18. Those whose strength is in the Lord. Ps 84:5.
  19. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Mt 5:6.
  20. Those who frequent the house of God. Ps 65:4; 84:5.
  21. Those who avoid the wicked. Ps 1:1.
  22. Those who endure temptation. Jas 1:12.
  23. Those who watch against sin. Re 16:15.
  24. Those who rebuke sinners. Pr 24:25.
  25. Those who watch for the Lord. Lu 12:37.
  26. Those who die in the Lord. Re 14:13.
  27. Those who have part in the first resurrection. Re 20:6.
  28. Those who favor saints. Ge 12:3; Ru 2:10.
  29. Those who are undefiled. Ps 119:1.
  30. Those who are pure in heart. Mt 5:8.
  31. Those who are just. Ps 106:3; 10:6.
  32. Those who are the children of the just. Pr 20:7.
  33. Those who are righteous. Ps 5:12.
  34. Those who are the generation of the upright. Ps 112:2.
  35. Those who are faithful. Pr 28:20.
  36. Those who are poor in spirit. Mt 5:3.
  37. Those who are meek. Mt 5:5.
  38. Those who are merciful. Mt 5:7.
  39. Those who are bountiful. De 15:10; Ps 41:1; Pr 22:9; Lu 14:13, 14.
  40. Those who are peace-makers. Mt 5:9.
  41. Those who are holy mourners. Mt 5:4; Lu 6:21.
  42. Those who are saints at the judgment day. Mt 25:34.

Now you might be tempted to think that most of this list doesn’t apply to you. And based on your own merit, you’d be right.

But if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re in luck.  In Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ, and because of what Jesus Christ has done on your behalf, you are (in the eyes of God) every one of these kinds of people.

Therefore in the eyes of God you are truly blessed.

Because this status comes from God it can’t be changed. Because of your relationship to Jesus, it is your permanent condition.

We might not feel it. But that is only because we are so accustomed to using our own standard for what makes us feel blessed.

Our feelings will change when we accept that what God says about us is really true. And when we do, we we will be free from the addiction of comparing ourselves to others. We will be free from the comparison trap.

 

May we embrace our God-given status of being blessed today!

 

 

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The list is adapted from: R. Torrey’s. The new topical text book…. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Bible Software (2001).

True Identity

The other night I went with our high school students to watch How to Train your Dragon 2. As I watched the movie, I was reminded just how significant the question of identity is to each of us.

In the movie, the main character Hiccup seeks to answer the question, who am I?  He wonders if he could become the new village chief, even though he is nothing like the current chief–his father. He wonders where his spirit of curiosity, peace, and exploration comes from. In Hiccup’s mind, understanding who he is will determine what he should do.

For Hiccup, even though he is told to look within himself,  the answers to his questions of identity come from outside himself. Through the encouragement and wisdom of his family, friends, and community, he discovers who he is.

The movie reminds us that we all desire to know who we are.  That who we are will drive our actions. And that the answer to who am I? is actually found outside of ourselves.

This is the way God made us.

God made us to desire an answer to the question who am I? God made us so that our actions would be dependent on our identity. And God made us to search for our identity in things and people outside of ourselves.

Why?

God made us this way because it is his desire to give us our identity. And it is his desire that our actions be dependent (or motivated) by our God-given identity.

What is our God-given identity?

For those who have been adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ, God says to them:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12:)

Notice, first God reminds his people who they are:

(1) Chosen race, (2) a royal priesthood, (3) a holy nation, (4) God’s possession, (5) God’s people, (6) receivers of mercy

Then he encourages them to act in manner that flows from that identity…

(1) Abstain from passions of the flesh, (2) keep your conduct honorable, (3) do good deeds.

Of course, the verses in 1 Peter are just a small sample of our God-given identity. In his book, Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ, Neil Anderson provides us with a fuller picture of  our identity in Christ.  Take a moment and watch this video inspired by Anderson’s book:

Click here for a print version of “Who I Am In Christ”

Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we no longer have to wonder who am I? We are free from this existential crisis. In Christ, we are given an identity that is bigger, stronger, and more worthwhile than anything we can find in our family, friends, or community. In Christ, we are given an identity that will last forever.

In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our acceptance by God. In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our security of self. And in Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our significance in the world.

Only in Christ do we discover who we were truly made to be. Only in Christ do we discover our true identity.

A Better Way To Pray…

Last Sunday at Fellowship I led the congregation in a Scripture reading and prayer. The text was Deut. 30:11-20. A key verse in the text was Deut. 30:16:

For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Often the temptation is to respond to such a text by praying something like this:

Heavenly Father, help us to keep your commands so that we might live and receive your blessing…

We’re tempted to pray this way because we want God to bless us. We want God’s favor upon us.

The problem is that this kind of prayer is, in some way, unnecessary.

Here’s why….

You and I will never (this side of heaven) be able to walk in perfect obedience to God. We will never be able to perfectly keep all of God’s commands. We will never be good enough to receive God’s blessing.

God actually knows this.

So why then does God give us commands?

God’s commands exist for two reasons. First, they exist as a reflection of the character of God. God’s commands show us just how holy God is. Second, God’s commands show us just how unholy we are.

In other words, the commands of God show us we need help. They show us we need a savior.

Jesus Christ is that Savior.

When Jesus lived on earth he did what we could not do. He walked in perfect obedience to God the Father. He fulfilled every command of God. He showed us what a perfect life actually looks like.

But Jesus did more than just show us how to live. Jesus lived a righteous [right relationship to God] life for a bigger reason.  He desired to give his righteousness away…

In Romans 3:21-24 the Apostle Paul writes:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Paul’s point is this: because none of us can keep the commandments of God perfectly, none of us on our own can be righteous [in right relationship to God]. Therefore we need another way of being righteous. A way that is outside of the law of  God. Jesus is that other way.

Furthermore, when we put our faith [trust] in Jesus Christ, we are justified [judged innocent] by God. And redeemed [put back in right relationship] by God.

This is called “The Great Exchange”. When we repent and put our faith in Jesus, he takes on all our sin, and in turn gives us all his righteousness.

This changes how we pray.

Now when we read verses such as Deut. 30:16, we can respond very differently than before.

Our prayer no longer needs to be “God help me to keep your commands,” but instead something like this:

“God, thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to keep all the commands on my behalf.

Thank you, Jesus, that you lived a righteous and perfect life, and that you gave the righteousness you earned to me. Thank you that by your grace you delivered to me the favor and blessings of God.

Jesus, I want to do your will—not so I can earn your favor, but as an act of gratitude for what you have done for me!

When we see Jesus Christ as our righteousness, we will no longer be burdened by the law of God. What is more, the entire Old Testament will open up to us, beautifully displaying just how much Jesus has done for us. Understanding this will allow us to pray in a better way.

 

Today,  I pray that you will put your trust in Jesus. That you will trust that Jesus has made you righteous. I pray that you would know that, because Jesus has made you righteous, the favor and blessing of God is already upon you. And I pray that, because God’s favor is already upon you, your life today will be filled with grace and gratitude.

Give Up Your Story

There is something in all of us that desires to live a great story. We want to have a part in a story that matters. We want to do something that will count.  We want a legacy that will live beyond our death.

But how do we ensure that happens?

Some of us fixate on our own stories.

We try to get the most out of life. We seek to accomplish the most we can. We seek to achieve what others could not. We seek to do more, shine brighter, so that when we die our last thought will be “I lived a fulfilled life”.

But of course the problem with this kind of life is that we may never have enough. We may never accomplish enough. There is always more that could be done.

Some of us fixate on the story of our families

“Family is everything”, we say. We love our family’s history. And we care about our family’s future. We want to do everything we can to help our family be successful. Our legacy is directly tied to the future flourishing of the next generation.

But families can be fickle. The hard work and success of one generation is easily wasted by the next. And what one generation wants for a family is not necessarily what the next generation will want. There is no guarantee that the story of our families will turn out how we would like it.  There is no guarantee that our legacy will be past down.

Some of us fixate on the story of our nation

Individual stories and family stories are fine. But some of us are attracted to a much greater story. The story of our nation. That is the story the engulfs our lives. In our minds we feel like we know how the story should go.We feel good when the story is going the way we think it should. And we feel scared and anxious when the story seems to go off course.

Of course, here too there is problem. We have little control over what happens in our nation. We can do our best to get the people we want in office, but that does nothing to ensure the nation will go in the direction we believe it should go.

A better option- the story of Jesus

Jesus understands that we long to be part of a greater story– a story that matters. He made us that way. He also knows that the stories of individuals, families, or nations (or anything else), can’t give us what we desire.

Sin runs through everything and corrupts every story.

Thus we need a better story. A story that can’t be corrupted. A story that has the power to sustain hope. A story that will last. A story we can depend on. A story that can not fail.

This is the story of Jesus.

Jesus is the hero of history. At the end of time Jesus alone will receive all glory, honor, and praise. His will be the story that will be retold and never forgotten.

This is why Jesus invites us to give up our story, and enter into his story.

When we follow Jesus we are freed from trying to get the most out of our own life. Because we no longer have to strive for our own success, but can now live out of his success.

When we follow Jesus we are freed  from trying to ensure our legacy will be carried out by future generations. Because Jesus brings us into his family, a family whose legacy is guaranteed to never be forgotten.

When we follow Jesus we are freed from putting our hope in the story of our nation. Because Jesus invites us into his nation, “The Kingdom of God”.  The only perfect nation that will last forever.

Through our relationship to Jesus we become part of the greatest story.  The story that is able to ensure for us the significance we long for.

That is why the story of Jesus is the only story worth giving up all other stories to be a part of.

 

 

 

 

 

Free From Graduations

When I graduated from sixth grade, all I could think about was would people like me in the seventh grade. When I graduated from eighth grade all I could think about was would people like me in the ninth grade.

It was a little pathetic I know…

But, hey, I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be part of the “cool group.” And it turns out that desire to be accepted never goes away.

Whether we’re graduating from elementary school, high school, college, or entering a new career, there is always a part of us that desires to be accepted by the next group of people. We can’t help but look for approval from the “cool group.”

The “cool group” isn’t always the people who wear the best clothes or who are the most popular. As you graduate in life, the cool group is often the group of people that has something you want. Whether it is knowledge, good-looks, money, power, or the appearance of success. It is the group you want to be around because you’re hoping that some aspect of their life will rub off on you. And in turn you will be “cool” too.

The reason any of us want to graduate into the “cool group” is because we want to be valued. We want someone with some status to give us his or her approval. We want this because we believe the approval of someone we look up to will somehow show the world we are worth something too.

We’re not wrong.

Getting the approval of someone with a higher social standing will add value and worth to our lives…but it won’t last. It will only last until we meet someone else with a higher “cool” factor. As soon as that happens, we’ll want that person’s approval…that is, until we meet someone “cooler.”

It can be a never ending search for approval. A never ending search to find our self-worth. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend our whole lives trying to “graduate” from one person’s approval to another.

Thankfully, Jesus sets us free from this never-ending desire to “graduate.”

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the King of kings, and the ruler of all of the universe. There is no one in the universe with a higher social status than him.  He is at the very top. He is smarter, prettier, richer, more accomplished, and more powerful, than any other being in existence. There is no one “cooler” than him.

Yet, despite his untouchable social status, Jesus did something for you and me that was unthinkable–scandalous even.

He set aside his social status. He came down from heaven. And he pursued you and me.

We were in no state to be pursued. We were rebels, we were gross, and untouchable. We were evil and unlovable.

Yet Jesus came and invited us into his life, into his home, and into his holy family.

Of course, in the state we were in, we couldn’t actually enter into his family. Our evil desires, thoughts, and actions made us too unclean, too imperfect. We were too much of a mess to be a part of Jesus’ “cool group.”

So Jesus again did the unthinkable. He cleaned us. But not with soap and water. But with his blood.

On the cross, Jesus, the king of kings, sacrificed himself for you and me. He used his blood to wash us clean and make us holy. He paid our entrance fee into God’s family.

It was a gift.

A gift he gave to the undeserving, the unworthy, the poor, to all of us desiring to have some kind of social status. As a result, for all those who would believe in him he gave them the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

In this mind blowing act Jesus did something amazing for all of us who would receive him. He gave you and me status. He gave you and me his approval. He made us new creations.

Jesus broke the never ending need to “graduate.”

Today, we no longer have to look for acceptance from other people. We no longer have to try to “graduate” to the next level of “coolness”. We no longer have to work like crazy to climb up the approval ladder. Because Jesus, the One at the top, has come down to us—to accept us.

Of course, now, the only question is, will we accept him? Will we accept his approval? Will we give our lives to him, and stop looking for lesser approval from others?

If we will, we will be free from the never-ending desire to “graduate”.

For all the graduates this year, may you no longer worry if the next group of people you will meet will accept you. Jesus Christ offers you his approval. Give your life and future to him.  Then rest in the knowledge that wherever you go,  you are already accepted by the “coolest” person of all.

How accurate do your beliefs have to be to go to heaven?

On Facebook the other day a friend posted a link to the poem “When I say am a Christian”. The poem was attributed to Maya Angelou. After reading the poem, I was deeply moved and just about to “share” the link. But then my eyes caught a glimpse of a “related article” by snopes.com. I clicked on the snopes’ link and to my disappointment learned that the poem was not written by the late Maya Angelou.

Now the posting from my friend was a harmless mistake. But that got me thinking, what did Maya Angelou actually believe? Did she go to heaven?

Turns out Maya Angelou was part of the Unity Church. You can watch her talk with Oprah about it here. And you can find out what the Unity Church believes here…

If you clicked on the links above,  you many have noticed that what the Unity Church believes about Jesus is very different than what orthodox Christians believe about Jesus.  But does that matter?

How accurate does a person’s  beliefs have to be to go heaven? Or to put it another way, what exactly does a person need to believe about Jesus, in order to be saved by Jesus?

In the Bible

In the Bible, there was one person who surely had a minimal understanding of who Jesus was. Yet we know that  he went to heaven. The man met Jesus the last day of his life. He was one of two criminals sentenced to death, and crucified next to Jesus.

The story takes place in Luke 23:32-43. Luke writes:

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots…39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

On the last day of his life the nameless criminal put his faith in Jesus and was promised entrance into paradise.

But what exactly did he believe about Jesus?

At the very least the criminal had three beliefs about Jesus:

1.  Jesus was a sinless man sent from GodDon’t you fear God (v.40)…We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”(v.41)

2.  Jesus was a king Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (v.42)

3.  Jesus was able to save him “Jesus, remember me…”(v.42)

There was a lot the criminal did not know about Jesus. He didn’t know that Jesus was the second person of the Trinity. He likely did not comprehend the duel natures of Jesus. He likely knew none of Jesus’ parables. Or Jesus’ teaching concerning the Old Testament Law.

In the moments just before his death all he knew was that Jesus was the Messiah (God’s holy “sent one”), the Lord (king over of all) and the Savior (the one who could save him from the consequences of his sin).

This was all Jesus had revealed to him. But it was enough to ignite his faith, and cause a response. It was enough for the criminal to be welcomed into heaven. (v.43)

 What about Maya and us?

I don’t know if Maya Angelou believed that Jesus was the Messiah, her Lord, and her Savior. I pray she did. Because without trusting in the divine authority and saving work of Jesus, we all are like that criminal hanging next to Jesus on the cross- a condemned man about to face the  judgement of God, for the sins committed against God.

But the good news is that Jesus cares about condemned criminals (like you, me, and Maya).  And he is eager to invite even criminals into paradise.  That’s why he has revealed himself to us as the Messiah, the Lord, and the Savior.

For if these beliefs are the only beliefs we have about Jesus, they are enough to cause our hearts to repent.  Thy are enough for us to put our trust in him.  And they will be enough for each of us, on the day of our death, to hear his words, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

 

 

Why Are There Martyrs?

Chris asked, “If God provides for all of our needs, why are there martyrs? How are their needs being met?”

I love good questions. And these are good questions.

For this post we’ll have to work our way backwards. I’ll answer the second question first, because that will in turn answer the first question.

So let’s begin with the answer to the second question by focusing on the notion of “need”. For example, when the Apostle Paul writes, “And my God will meet all your needs” (Phil 4:19a), what is he saying?

Paul, appears to be saying, “With God, you will never be needy.” But that can’t be accurate because, in Philippians 4:12 Paul writes,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

We see that for Paul there were times when he was clearly in need. So how can he write, “And my God will meet all your needs”?

The answer has to do with Paul’s “secret of being content in any and every situation”. What was Paul’s secret?  The answer is in the next verse,

I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength. (Phil 4:13)

Paul is saying that there have been times of need and times of abundance, but because he has Jesus, he has the strength to be content in all situations.

Now, understanding this is important because Paul uses the same logic in Philippians 4:19. The entire verse actually reads:

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Similar to Philippians 4:12-13, Paul is saying two things:

  1. God promises to meet your needs
  2. But, God will meet your needs through Jesus Christ.

What does all this have to do with our original questions about martyrs?

Everything.

The Apostle Paul understood that Jesus Christ is the only thing you need. If you have Jesus you have everything. Because, as he writes in Colossians, “Christ… is your life” (Colossians 3:14).

Paul knew that Jesus gives you life (John 14:6; 17:3). Jesus sustains your life (Colossians 1:17). Jesus directs your life (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus provides purpose to your life (Colossians 1:16). And Jesus demands your life (Matthew 16:25). Thus to have Jesus is to have no other need. Or as Pastor Tullian Tchividjian famously put it, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”.

So now let’s apply this to Christian martyrs.

When Christians are killed for their faith (martyred), God actually supplies all their needs. Because God is giving them Jesus Christ. Paul knew this, when he wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”(Phil 1:21). Paul looked forward to death because he knew that after death he would instantly enter into the full presence of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:8). Therefore, he would not lose anything, but instead gain everything.

There is no such thing as a needy martyr. Because Jesus Christ fulfills every need. When we die we get all of Christ. We therefore, lose nothing, and gain everything.

God allows Christians to be martyred, because their deaths proclaim one simple and glorious truth—to have Jesus Christ is to have everything.